Celebrates 63rd anniversary...:
SLAF stands tall
The Sri Lanka Air Force celebrates its 63rd anniversary today. A new
chief took over the command last Friday. Five years ago, on the night of
February 20, just ten days before they were to traditionally celebrate
their fifty eighth Air Force Day and the Sri Lankan military was on the
edge of winning the war against terrorism when an LTTE flying bomb hit
Colombo in a kamikaze style suicide air attack. The LTTE ZLIN 143 air
craft heavily laden with C4 explosives hit the Inland Revenue Department
building in th slave Island around 10 p.m.
By this time of the year in 2009 the entire area was in . For eye
witnesses it was a terrifying experience. The night skies above Lake
House and the vicinity were illuminated with anti-aircraft fire.
According to Air Force sources the highly probable target would have
been the Air Force Headquarters which was just a few blocks away from
the Inland Revenue Department.
According to military sources, news reached the Air Defence
Operations Centre in Katunayake around 8.30 p.m. on that night from Army
frontline in Puthukkuduyirippu of two aircraft heading Southwest. They
were sighted by ground troops in Mankulam and Silavathurai as well. The
SLAF Radar base in Vavuniya picked up sights of the LTTE ZLINs making a
turn at Mannar heading towards Colombo. When aircraft moved away from
the Vavuniya radar range the Palavi radar unit in Puttalam took over.
The Vavuniya radar unit was one of the first two Indra MkII radars tht
became operational during January and February in 2006. These radars has
a 90 kilometres range. They were mobile, gap filler-land based radars
designed to operate within a large air defence system.
A F7 jet targetted the LTTE ZLINs yet could not achieve. The jest
were not manufactured to suit the simple technologies of the ZLIN 143.
ZLIN 143 aircraft, manufactured in the Czech Republic, is a single
engine, low-winged monoplane, mainly used for training purposes. It is
normally a four-seater, but is modified by the LTTE to carry four bombs
on its undercarriage. The Tiger terrorists are the only group known so
far to use Z-143s for military purposes. Following the F7 attempt the
MI24 helicopter intercepted the terrorist air crafts. Although the
camera fixed to the MI24 detected the aircraft, the enemy moved in to a
cloud cover nullifying the engagement opportunity.
Air Defence System
Simultaneously the Air Force activated their Air Defence System and
the two LTTE flying bombs have continued moving towards south – towards
Colombo passing Katunayake. By this time a large area covering
Katunayake and Colombo were plunged in total darkness due to power shut
down as it would make manoeuvering difficult for the LTTE.
Radars detected that the air crafts entered the Colombo sky limits
past 10.45 p.m. With this the Air Defence System started firing
illuminating the pitch dark night while soldiers are checkpoints tried
bringing down the enemy shooting at will.
Based on the pattern the LTTE air crafts circled in the Colombo city,
Air Force sources believe that the apparent target would have been the
Air Force Headquarters yet the Inland Revenue Department became the
victim. Both the buildings were a few blocks apart and were on the same
side of the banks of the Beira lake. Just before the LTTE rammed in to
the building the Air Defence System made a hit on one of the ZLINs
making the terrorists loose control of the air craft. In a few minutes
the LTTE flying bomb rammed in to the Inland Revenue Building and the
damage killed two people damaging the twelfth floor of the building.
Fifty people sustained injuries. Almost all were non military. And no
human rights activist spoke about these victims. Not even did they make
a mere mention.
Over the chaotic skies the remaining ZLIN diverted its route towards
Katunayake. According to the Air Force it was approaching the SLAF
Katunayake base where the main two fighter jet squadrons were located.
Within seconds the Air Defence System searchlight operator managed to
focus the lone ZLIN and the Air Defence System showered fire targeting
the terrorists. Close to 11 p.m. the aircraft was shot down and it had
crashed to a nearby grove and the pilot, thrown out of the cockpit with
a bullet ridden body.
It was this crash that confirmed that the LTTE were using Czech built
ZLIN 143. If not for the success of the Air Defence System this evidence
would have taken longer time to realise. While the SLAF radar systems
operated as the eye of the Air Defence System the trailer mounted Bofors
L70 40mm air defence guns attached to another fire control radar would
be limbs. These guns and fire controlling radars were installed in SLAF
air bases around the country and selected strategic locations in Colombo
city. It is this efficient Air Defence System of the SLAF that was
installed in 2006 with two Indra MK II, one command and Control Centre,
that thwarted the primitive yet annoying air attack of the LTTE.
The crashed ZLIN air craft fully intact gave a lot of evidence on the
‘modus operandi’ of the LTTE. According to the GPRS found in the crashed
air craft the LTTE air crafts have taken off from a narrow location at
Ampalavanpokkanai which was an areas within the then demarcated ‘no fire
zone. It had been loaded with C4 explosives. Both had been. With this
the LTTE air attempts were totally nullified by the Air Force and
finally revealing the much hidden facts of the LTTE air ‘power'.
Today proud members of the Air Force will celebrate their victorious
past with ample success stories like the stories below. The SLAF
Commander who retired Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama was the Director
Operations at the time of the above mentioned attack. Solemnly but
gracefully the commanders, the outgoing and the incoming, took their
turns under the skies that once a mayhem was unleashed. Today the Air
Force is under a new leadership of Air Marshal Kolitha Gunatilleke who
is an extremely skilful pilot with versatility.
As there remains no remnants of the LTTE air attacks, with the unique
experiences absorbed during the war against terrorism, Sri Lanka Air
Force stands in an unbeatable position in succeeding mission impossible.